Monday, November 29, 2010

Hundreds die in tragic end to water festival

I haven't had a chance to post on this, even though it happened one week ago today. It is most definitely a tragedy that could have been avoided. The loss is incredible and heart-wrenching. This is one reason why I have steered clear of Phnom Penh during its annual water festival. One's safety just simply cannot be guaranteed.

Here are several links to articles printed in the Phnom Penh Post about this incident.

Stampede in Cambodia kills hundreds, government says
By the CNN Wire Staff
November 22, 2010

A stampede that occurred during a festival in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh has killed 339 people, officials said Monday.

Another 329 people were injured in the crush, said Philip Bader, a news editor with the Phnom Penh Post, citing information given by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a televised address.

Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington, said more than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred.

But other reports put the number at 2 million., said Steve Finch, a journalist with the Phnom Penh Post.

The municipal police chief said that the stampede, which began around 10 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), likely occurred because a suspension bridge packed with people began to sway, creating panic, said Bader, who cited reports of people jumping from the bridge into the river below.

Finch said police began firing water cannon onto a bridge to an island in the center of a river in an effort to get them to continue moving across the bridge.

"That just caused complete and utter panic," he told CNN in a telephone interview. He said a number of people lost consciousness and fell into the water; some may have been electrocuted, he said. Finch cited witnesses as saying that the bridge was festooned with electric lights, which may have played a role in the electrocutions.

The government denied anyone was electrocuted.

Video link to report on stampede.

Hundreds die in tragic end to water festival
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Post Staff

Hundreds died and hundreds more were injured last night in a stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge, bringing a tragic close to the final day of water festival celebrations in Phnom Penh.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced via video conference at 2:30am that 339 people had been confirmed dead and 329 injured.

“With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said. “This needs to be investigated more.”

This is the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime,” he said, adding that Cambodia would hold a national day of mourning on Thursday and that a committee would be set up to investigate the incident.

The cause of the stampede has not yet been confirmed, but Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said it happened because “one million people”, many of whom were leaving the island, became “scared of something.”

Phnom Penh struggles to cope with tragic stampede
Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Cambodian officials today were struggling to cope with the aftermath of last night’s tragic stampede on Diamond Island in Phnom Penh that left more than 300 people dead and several hundreds more injured.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced early this morning via video conference that 339 were confirmed dead.

Nhim Vanda, deputy director of the Department of Disaster Management put the figure today at 349, while unconfirmed reports from police officials said 375 had been killed.

Death toll surges in island disaster
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
By Cheang Sokha

The death toll from Monday’s tragic bridge stampede has leapt to 456, according to official figures released yesterday, eclipsing earlier estimates that put the number of dead at around 350.

In a statement announcing the figures, Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs and the chairman of the government’s committee investigating the cause of the incident, stated that the toll spiked after 17 provinces reported their casualty numbers to the authorities.

“After each province reported to the subcommittee, the total number is 456 now,” said Ith Samheng.

“Some bodies were transported home straight away and some injured people died at home,” he said, explaining the increased toll. “This is a shocking incident for Cambodia.”

Hundreds of people were crushed and suffocated to death on Monday night when crowds attending the annual Water Festival became trapped on a narrow suspension bridge, in one of the country’s worst peacetime losses of life.

Cambodians turn out to honor the dead
By CNN Wire Staff
November 25, 2010

Hundreds of somber-faced Cambodians assembled Thursday morning in front of the suspension bridge in the capital where hundreds of people died Monday in a stampede during a festival.

Some carried flowers, others lit candles and incense in honor of the dead in the ceremony early Thursday, which the government has declared a day of mourning.

PM overcome by grief
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIANS across the country observed a day of mourning yesterday for the victims of Monday’s Diamond Island stampede, as questions remained about the ultimate cause of and responsibility for the disaster.

Government officials said Wednesday that the death toll had reached 456, though that number was revised downward yesterday to 347. Senior Minister Om Yentieng, the deputy chairman of the government commission investigating the incident, said yesterday that the death toll provided a day earlier by the investigatory sub-commission had double-counted victims who were brought to local hospitals before being returned to their home provinces.

Government officials gathered yesterday morning at the site of the tragedy, where Prime Minister Hun Sen shed tears as he knelt to pay respect to the souls of the deceased.

Tragedy a ‘joint mistake’
Monday, 29 November 2010
Cheang Sokha

Government authorities have announced the conclusion of their investigation into the causes of last week’s lethal stampede on Diamond Island, saying no officials will be held to account for an incident that was described as a “joint mistake”.

Announcing the results of the inquiry, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An backed up preliminary findings that the incident was triggered by mass panic related to the swaying of the bridge leading to the island.

“There is no sign of terrorism or that criminals arranged this in advance. We can say that it was caused by a stampede,” said Sok An, who headed the committee investigating the Diamond Island tragedy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bloggers United Challenge: Week 3

The Challenge

What's inside your handbag? You can tell a lot about a person by what they carry around with them everyday. What's in yours and why? (photos are always welcome)

I once sat next to a man who exclaimed, "Wow! You have such a small purse!" This is true. I don't like to carry around big bags and have them filled with everything under the sun. Generally my purse has the basics. This is what's currently in my purse:
  • a small zippered wallet with card slot because a larger wallet is just too cumbersome
  • 2 pens (free from an agricultural company) that write fantastically
  • 1 mechanical pencil (from where I'm working) because you never know when you need to write in pencil
  • sunglasses in their soft case are a must for going out into the sun and driving
  • car & house keys
  • a small zippered bag that contains chapstick, gum, toothpicks, tissues, lotion, nail file and eye drops; one must always be prepared.
  • a notepad to write down my thoughts, reminders and other lists
  • a few coupons for local restaurants
  • a Tupperware container with chili & lime almonds and a another with chocolate almonds because I like to make sure I have snacks
  • my cell phone (on vibrate), otherwise it's in my pocket
  • a few postcards to write out and send for Swap-Bot swaps
  • my friend's newsletter from China for me to read while I'm waiting for something. It's 11, single-spaced pages long!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bloggers United: November Challenge Week 2


Oh dear! You're on death row! (don't worry....... you're totally not guilty and the governor is going to call to stop it before it happens). What is your last ever meal and why?

I would ask for a roasted turkey dinner with all the trimmings that was prepared by my mom:

  • cornbread stuffing

  • honey cinnamon yams

  • mashed potatoes & gravy

  • homemade dinner rolls

  • broccoli & cauliflower with melted cheese

  • pumpkin pie

  • apple pie

There's not much better than that, except maybe really good chocolate mousse.

If she's not availabe to cook a turkey dinner, I'd ask for BBQ'd chicken from F. McLintock's in Shell Beach, California. The local saloon in my town offers a Tuesday special of a 1/2 chicken with your choice of BBQ or pineapple sauce with cheese bread and your choice of fries or a baked potatoe. The dinner used to come with their famous ranch beans and a side salad, but now that's extra.

Dessert would have to be either Doc Burnstein's ice cream (which is a reincarnation of the original Burnadoz Ice Cream Parlor) for a drumstick, or a pink champagne cake from Madonna Inn.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tight leash for monks

This article reminds me of the time I was studying the Cambodian language under the tutelage of 3 young Cambodian monks in 2004. I discovered that monks are the same as any young boy in his teens, hormones and all. They kept a pair of binoculars to watch any young girls who came into the pagoda compound.

In addition to that, I actually had a monk fall in love with me, sending me frequent emails describing how he wanted to hold my hand and such. And this was after only meeting him once. I have to laugh a little at the thought of the monks being told to watch the boat races from a "safe distance" to keep them in line with Buddhist precepts.

Monks line up in front of Angkor Wat during a Visak Bochea Day ceremony in April. Photo by: Sovan Philong

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

By Vong Sokheng

Buddhist monks will be allowed to watch boat races during the upcoming water festival – but only from a safe distance.

The Ministry of Cults and Religions says it has banned Buddhist monks from walking freely among the crowd during the three-day festival, which runs from November 20-22, in order to preserve proper Buddhist morality.

“We are not prohibiting the Buddhist monks from taking part during the festival if the monks will gather and sit in one place that is not too close to the crowd,” said Dork Narin, secretary of state at the ministry.

“In order to keep monks in [line with] good Buddhist concepts and to keep a neutral mind, we will not allow the monks to walk freely in the crowd because the monks could break the rules if they see a sexy lady or a couple kissing in the crowd.”

Monks are expected to remain celibate, refrain from touching or being alone with women and are forbidden to drink alcohol.

At least 20 Buddhist monks were disciplined at last year’s water festival for allegedly walking amongst the crowd and flirting with girls, said Ten Borana, personal assistant to the Kingdom’s chief Buddhist monk Non Nget.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cambodian sanitation ranks last in region

This is why I am so excited about furthering the Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project. Cambodia ranks the lowest in Southeast Asia in its access to toilets. Let's build some toilets in the Cambodian countryside people!

Tuesday, 09 November 2010
By Rann Reuy

Fewer people in Cambodia have access to adequate sanitation facilities than in any other Southeast Asian country, according to a new report from the Ministry of Rural Development.
Only 29 percent of Cambodians had access to sanitation facilities as of 2008, said the report released on Monday, which draws on figures from the World Health Organisation and the UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

By comparison, 96 percent of people in Thailand, 75 percent in Vietnam and 53 percent in Laos had access to such facilities, according to the JMP 2010 report, which was released in March.
Furthermore, 67 percent of Cambodians living in urban areas had access to sanitation facilities in 2008, compared with only 18 percent of people in rural areas.

Chea Samnang, director of the Rural Development Ministry’s Department of Rural Heath, said on Monday that the number of toilets in the Kingdom’s rural areas was increasing at about 2 percent annually.

“We see it is increasing, but it is so slow,” he said.

He said he did not believe that the lack of progress in rural areas could be attributed to poverty levels, arguing that many people who did not own a toilet, which would cost about US$20-30, owned other “modern electrical items” such as motorbikes or telephones.

They Chanto, hygiene promotion officer at the ministry’s Rural Hygiene Education Office, said a substantial number of Cambodians defecate in the open, meaning that about “3,000 fresh stools were scattered into the environment each day”.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ideas worth reading about

Check out these ideas and links very thoroughly. They are worthwhile and demonstrate how the simplest idea can be transformative. It's an encouragement for me to move beyond my ideas and push them into reality.

D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution by Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist.
I became interested in such figures while writing a book with my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, about educating and empowering women as a solution to many of the world’s problems. We ran into extraordinary men, like Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, who pioneered microfinance in Bangladesh. Or Bill Drayton, an American who is a godfather of entrepreneurs working for social change and who now runs a group called Ashoka to support them. Or Greg Mortenson, whose struggles to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan are chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea.” But it struck us that women in particular were finding creative ways to help the world’s most vulnerable people, many of them also women.

How to Change the World from Nicholas D. Kristof's "On the Ground" blog.
First, dip your toe in the waters to get a sense of the work that is being done and to find what resonates most with you. Another approach is to browse a comprehensive site like Global Giving, where organizations around the world have posted their wish lists. Another easy first step is to sponsor someone abroad through a program that lets you contribute a certain amount each month to that person and exchange letters.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for a cause and organization that particularly speaks to you, that exhilarates you. Then dive in and focus your efforts on that organization. Also, don’t limit your involvement to writing checks. People are also needed to sign petitions and write indignant letters to members of Congress. Try to visit a project that you’ve supported. This doesn’t work for everybody, but think about volunteering for a stint abroad. Or there are many other organizations that will take volunteers to teach English or do other work, and it truly can be a life-changing experience.

I also recommend the books by David Bornstein on social entrepreneurship. His best known is “How to Change the World,” which has become the bible of would be change-makers. There is also a list of recommended organizations by Kristof.

Finding Volunteer Trips that Actually Help. By Marnie Hunter, CNN.
The idea of volunteering away from home seems like a win-win to many travelers: a way to experience and help another community at the same time. But without a solid, well-designed program and reasonable expectations, volunteer travel can do more harm than good.

Showing up in parts unknown, hoping to make a big difference in a small amount of time, is likely to leave travelers and hosts disappointed.

"You're not going to change the world in a week or two. You're not going to eradicate poverty in a village. You're not going to teach a kid how to read," said Doug Cutchins, a former Peace Corps volunteer and co-author of "Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others."

The key to having a positive impact in a short amount of time is realizing that your efforts are part of a process, Cutchins said. Results are subtle and come about slowly through a long line of volunteers.

ConCERT Cambodia. ConCERT – "Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism" - is a non profit organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our aim is to reduce poverty, and we do this by bringing together people who want to help, and local organisations that need the kind of support they can give.

At ConCERT we have information on a range of organisations that are engaged in humanitarian activities, all of whom need your support. They are well managed and financially transparent, and work in partnership with local people.
We also have a wealth of information on the causes and effects of poverty in Cambodia; this information explains why there is such an urgent need for your support.

Global Giving. The world is full of problems. GlobalGiving is full of solutions. GlobalGiving connects you to the causes and countries you care about. You select projects you want to support, make a tax-deductible contribution, and get regular progress updates - so you can see how your gift is making a difference.

One Day's Wages. One Day’s Wages (ODW) is a new grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving, and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

New Hope Cambodia. New Hope Cambodia is a grass roots, hands on and non government organization. “Whilst 'free education for all' is our priority, an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty, we cannot ignore the chronic malnutrition; ill health and appalling living conditions our students and families face every day”.

Ponheary Ly Foundation. The PLF is supported not only by private donations but by the dedicated work of both local Cambodian volunteers and visitors from abroad. Volunteers have taught, bathed, cooked for, played with and inspired children. They have bundled, loaded and delivered supplies to children and schools far and wide.

The PLF is about people showing up and paying attention. We hope if you’re ever in our neck of the woods, you’ll join us.

High silk prices concern craftsmen

In my humble opinion, Cambodian silk is some of the best in the world. It would be wonderful to invest in silk production so that the cost of materials could be reduced and the reliance on foreign silk could be decreased as well.

So much of the silk sold in the marketplace to tourists is labeled as Cambodian, yet if the silk thread is bought elsewhere, does that still make it Cambodian? Worse yet is when the Vietnamese or Thai finished silk products are sold as Cambodian.

Thursday, 04 November 2010
By Chun Sophal

HANDICRAFT makers called for increased domestic production of raw silk yesterday, as the price of thread imports continued to rise last month.

“When we are confronting growing prices, we have no options because there is little silk production in Cambodia,” said Men Sineurn, executive director for the Cambodian Craftsman Association. Locally produced raw silk meets only 1 percent of market demand from the 20,000 Cambodians workers who are employed through using the material.

Silk thread sold for US$41 per kilogram in the opening days of November, up 2.5 percent from $40 in October, according to Kae Muny, secretary general of the Khmer Silk Village Association.

Between 300 and 400 tonnes of silk is required annually to meet the Kingdom’s demand. Some 70 percent of goods made with silk are sold on domestic markets; the remainder is exported.

“It will take a long time to produce silk in our country,” said Kae Muny. Silk production was still largely done at the household level, and there was no large-scale investment in the field, he said.

Some 500 families have planted mulberry trees in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Srok district, and Siem Reap’s Srey Snom district, but they only produce up to 4 tonnes per year. Silk thread cost $37 per kilogram six months ago, and $27 per kilogram a year and a half ago.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bloggers United: November Challenge

The Challenge:

Your Lotto numbers have come up! You have taken care of your family and friends, you have 15 million dollars to spend on whatever you dreamed of before. How are you going to spend the money?

Give it away! There's tons of projects I would love to fund.

First, I would fund my Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project which aims at providing training and education for building waterless composting toilets across the Cambodian countryside. Only $5,000 would be needed to provide a village with 100 households with their own toilets, if even that much.

Second, I would build my dream home in Cambodia which would also serve as a guesthouse/hostel where hospitality and vocational skills training could take place for the poor and disabled at no cost to them.

Third, there are lots of little groups and organizations that would dearly benefit from some donations. Many of the organizations supported by ConCERT Cambodia would love a little something extra coming their way.

Fourth, I would get my mom's house fixed up even though this is supposedly covered by the original challenge. She's got some termite issues and the old workshop could better be used as an enclosed laundry room. Her backyard needs a facelift and her garage needs to be organized with industrial shelving for all the plastic bins of stuff she has.

Fifth, I would have a my Cambodian wedding and finally arrange the visa to the US for my husband. This is long overdue and my family would love to finally meet him in person.

And now for some not so comic relief...

Just a demonstration of another use of Landcruisers in Cambodia. This gives a completely new meaning to the idea of "off roading."

The Phnom Penh Post even highlighted this incident in today's edition. "Could this be Cambodia's first viral video? "

Monday, 01 November 2010

What might have otherwise become just another anonymous moment of vehicular impunity on the streets of Cambodia’s capital has leapt into the public consciousness and will now likely stay there for much longer than many in officialdom want, thanks to a bystander with a mobile phone camera.
Could this be Cambodia’s first viral video?
The low-fi, 34-second clip was originally on the blog LTO Cambodia last Thursday and has since logged 34,000 views from combined YouTube postings.